IBM Readies Jazzy Next-Gen Tools Platform

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IBM's Rational team is readying a new platform, Jazz, that IBM hopes will be the kind of breakthrough in team application-development methodology that Eclipse was for development tools.

Jazz has been slowly percolating for years within Big Blue -- IBM's research team showed off an early prototype of some Jazz aspects two years ago, and Rational featured a demo at its Rational Software Development Conference last June. But at this year's conference, Jazz will be ready for its close up, Rational General Manager Danny Sabbah said in a recent interview.

The company is running a closed beta, built atop several million lines of code, with select partners and other early adopters.

The idea driving Jazz is that modern, geographically distributed large-scale software development work requires a tailored set of collaboration tools and a fundamentally new methodology. IBM's take is that tools built for small teams of developers working together in the same location don't scale to the kinds of complex, modular projects large enterprises now confront.

"We do development work across 60 locations in all time zones, with 22,000 developers -- and that's just the Software Group at IBM," Sabbah said. "A lot of the principles that went into Jazz came from our knocks on the head, our successes and our failures, in understanding how to do development in that context. We've learned how to start scaling agile development processes in ways that were never imagined in small organizations."

IBM plans to introduce Jazz technology into its Rational line over the next several years, adding Jazz collaboration functionality to products like its Rational ClearCase version-control software and its Rational ClearQuest workflow management tool. For example, one Jazz-influenced feature under development would allow a programmer working on a bug to pass all of the artifacts associated with the bug to other members of a dynamically assembled team, using an instant-messaging infrastructure.

While IBM is spearheading Jazz, the company's goal is to make the platform the foundation for a broader, standardized industry effort.

"What we did for independent tools with Eclipse, we're going to try and start that conversation on the other side, with, with the broader community about establishing open standards that allow for this kind of global collaboration," Sabbah said. "This one is even more complicated to put together. Some of what's going on in Jazz has never been tried before."

The reality that development work is now a group undertaking has permeated development tools. Microsoft launched Visual Studio Team System in 2005, introducing role-specific versions of its IDE and an enhanced collaboration infrastructure. Sabbah said Microsoft's approach is apples-and-oranges different from IBM's Jazz work.

"On the surface, when you read the blurbs and the marketing materials, a lot of the elements might seem the same, because you're talking about trying to empower and organize teams. But the constructs and understanding of best-practices that you put on top of that platform are totally different," Sabbah said, "What we're talking about here is going one step further, dealing with the concept of teams when the teams have to be assembled dynamically and globally."

Jazz will have its public unveiling in June, at IBM's next Rational conference. In the meantime, attendees at next month's EclipseCon gathering in Santa Clara, Calif., will get a preview demonstration.

A handful of partners are already kicking Jazz's tires. Development tools ISV Instantiations, a longtime IBM ally and early Eclipse adopter, is participating in the Jazz pilot and likes what it sees so far.

"My technical guys are playing with it, and the feedback I get is that it's really pretty cool. It's a big step forward in the collaborative development world," said Mike Taylor, Instantiations' CEO. "From our perspective, it seems IBM is looking at it as their next-generation development platform."

Instantiations' clients are large enterprises, precisely the sort of complex, distributed development environment IBM is targeting with Jazz. If successful, Jazz will influence Instantiations' products, but the company could also get some internal mileage out of Jazz. Based in Portland, Ore., Instantiations has a staff of several dozen programmers scattered throughout the U.S. and Russia.

"The software development world is virtual now," Taylor said. "Something like Jazz can probably help us quite a bit."

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